Gosh, it was a rather busy and unexpectedly emotional day yesterday!
I said to Richard on Saturday that I wanted to make a Christmas Pudding, as it was Stir-Up Sunday this weekend which is the traditional day that people in the UK would make their Christmas Puddings; families all coming together and giving the mix a stir, each making a wish as they did so. It's obviously one of those traditions that is dying out swiftly now that we can go to any supermarket or corner shop and buy the pasty, sweet, microwaveable, unrecognisable Christmas Puddings that they sell these days. However, I was absolutely sure there is nothing like the real thing that mum used to make, and I wanted to make it. So make it we did!!
Now, I haven't made mum's Christmas Puddings for many decades. In fact, I don't think I've made a traditional Christmas Pudding since I last made one with mum when I must have been in my very, very early 20s.
Mum had given me one of her old cookery books some years back. It's an old Hamlyn cookery book with a pale blue cloth-like cover. The dust sheet has long been lost, and various splodges of cake batter and gravy now sit comfortably alongside the jaded and faded fake gold lettering on the cover binding. It wasn't actually the recipe for Christmas Pudding in the book that I was looking for though. You see, I knew that mum's handwritten recipe of HER Christmas Pudding was on a piece of paper cradled between two of the leaves of the book. I took Cooking In Colour off of my cookery book shelves (note... MY cookery book shelves, not OUR cookery book shelves!). I found the slip of mottled paper with red writing, and then remembered what I had known all along... the list of ingredients used and their weights was for 16 puddings, and I certainly didn't want to make 16!! So I set to and converted all of the ounces into grams and millilitres and then divided all of the total amount of each ingredient by 16. In the end, looking at the full list of ingredients and their weights for one pudding, I decided that I would do one and a half times this reduced amount of mix. It turned out that this was perfect for making 8 individual puddings; it was Richard's idea to make individual puddings rather than one large one, and I think that he had the right idea.
It was in the first moments of stirring this scented mix that the initial sense of the past came back to me... Standing around the dining room table with mum at my side and a huge plastic Tupperware in front of us. We would stir the mixture thoroughly, ensuring that everything was incorporated; no pockets of dry flour here, and no clumps of gooey, squidgy chopped prunes there. Just one unctious flavourful dried fruit, almond, sugar, suet, rum and stout paste. We'd have to take turns in doing the stirring as the quantity of mixture was so large it was really quite tiring on the arms!
My second sense of the past was when I could smell the puddings steaming. The gentle spicy aroma filled the kitchen, then our middle room, the ground floor, then the upstairs until the whole house was engulfed in scented memories. And boy did that aroma take me back decades again! I've obviously smelt Christmas Puddings over the decades, though none have given me this sense of days of old.
And then we jump forward to the tasting, and wowsers... didn't that bang me right back to being a child!! Sitting around the table at Christmas, with family and friends and some people that I didn't even know who they were. Presents had been opened and played with and the turkey carcass was sitting under tinfoil on top of the fridge. There we all were with our coloured paper Christmas cracker hats on, all feeling slightly boozy (even us youngsters as we were allowed Babycham!), terrible jokes had been read aloud, useless cracker gifts were spread around the tablecloth, some gleeful choir was singing updated carols and festive songs on the radio... and then would come mum's Christmas Puddings. Glistening. Flaming. And beautiful. In my opinion, heavenly. 😊
If you've seen the video of us making the Christmas Puddings you will see how I got rather overwhelmed by emotion. It was simply because the taste of this pudding just sent me back decades to all the memories above - to the joys of those people, of which too many are sadly no longer in our lives today, though they will live forever in our hearts... dad, my brother Perri, Aunty Phil, Uncle Len, Aunty Betty and Uncle Mick. Life is so short, yet it can also be so joyous.
And I guess that's the wonderful thing about food, along with many other daily necessities and luxuries.
In the depths of our minds we have so many memories that are associated with a smell or a taste or a sight or a sound, and even a touch. It's in moments like these, sometimes decades later, when these special times are relived, most often unexpectedly, that we're just taken back to our childhood or back to special moments of remembrance. It can be quite overwhelming, though it can also be so enriching too. I for one am so pleased that we have these moments as they highlight time's gone by; for me many are wonderfully sweet and happy whilst some are more bittersweet. However, these memories and events are part of the person each of us is today, and hopefully even more memories can be made for us to fall back to as we get older, and wiser, and remember.
And... as I sat in our front room this morning quietly doing the final edit of this blog before posting it, something quite lovely, unexpected and extraordinary happened, though this story will have to wait for another day...
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 14
Dad never really liked pasta. If it was in a lasagne then that was a bit different as the pasta was all hidden. As dad got older he enjoyed penne with a nice rich tomato sauce... and cheese. But in my early years dad was not a fan of pasta... and especially spaghetti...
When I suggested to dad around the age of eight that there was a vegetable that I'd like to grow called Spaghetti Squash, the seeds never arrived. I'm sure I continued to ask to grow this same vegetable over a good number of years, though the seeds again never seemed to arrive. Lots of other seeds arrived: parsnips, runner beans, carrots, beetroot, French beans, lettuce, tomatoes, aubergine, peppers, sweetcorn, courgette, marrow, spinach, radish, celery and many more. To be frank, I sort of forgot each year about the Spaghetti Squash because of the abundance of other exciting seeds that were arriving and being sown. I got so caught up in the joy of what we had that I forgot and therefore didn't worry about what I didn't. It was only when I saw it in the annual catalogue from Thompson & Morgan that I would say again "Dad, can we grow some Spaghetti Squash this year?"
It was in this first decade or so of my life, filled with the joys a productive garden brings - veggies, flowers, soft fruits, and apples and pears in our orchard - that my desire to want to grow fruit, vegetables and some flowers really flourished.
Some four decades later, in January this year, we received a little parcel from Erica of Erica's Little Welsh Garden. As an extra Erica had also included a whole host of different seeds. There were loads of packets of her own saved seeds from last year's harvests, including a good number of different squash and pumpkin varieties. However, it was one little plain white packet that really caught my eye... it held six of Erica's saved Spaghetti Squash seeds. There were also other packets with some giant pumpkin seeds and some other exotic squash seeds, though my heart just leapt at the thought of these six little dried, papery and weightless Spaghetti Squash seeds.
Obviously, I sowed them as soon as I could. The seeds germinated well and grew strong. When they reached a healthy size I put them in at the Community Gardens; I wanted them to be away from our Cheeky Prince at the allotment plots. I admit to watering them, though apart from that I sort of left them to their own devices. And boy did they grow... not massive and spreading, though rather productive. In fact these Spaghetti Squash have proven to be our most prolific of any squash this year. There seems to be two distinct varieties. One is a mottled green (below) and the other is the yellow one (above).
Yesterday, with some excitement and trepidation, I went down to the Community Gardens to harvest the first Spaghetti Squash. It was quite a moment and did somewhat pull at my heartstrings. It's quite incredible that I have been waiting to sow, grow, harvest, cook and taste a Spaghetti Squash for almost 46 years!
I brought it home and found that the mellow yellow skin was actually extremely tough. Maybe I had just left it in situ ripening too long? I tried to prick it all over as it says on the cooking instructions that I had read online, though the fork hardly made a dent. I decided the best thing to do would be to cut it in half and then bake it in the oven with the cut sides down. After 45 minutes I turned the bronzed shells over so that the flesh was showing and popped a knob of butter and some cracked black pepper into the hollow where the seeds had been. Back in it went for another 15 minutes...
When I took it out of the oven it smelled nice, though nothing special. I used a fork to tease out the flesh, and sure enough the yellow lusciousness came apart and turned into little threads of buttery squash. Awesome!! I have to admit it was all a little bit wetter than I had imagined it would be, though with a little bit of salt added it was absolutely divine!
Finally, I had sown, grown, harvested, cooked and eaten a Spaghetti Squash!! A lifetime goal achieved, and a desire fully quashed (not squashed!!)!
Will I be doing them again? Most probably. I still have three seeds remaining from the six Erica sent, and will be saving some seeds from the mesh of threads and seeds I removed prior to baking.
All I need now is more space to have a huge squash and pumpkin patch, and to harvest the rest of these little beauties of Spaghetti Squash at the Community Gardens.
I think even dad would have been happy with the outcome; he loved marrow with butter, salt and pepper and I'm sure this would have been one 'spaghetti' he would have happily devoured.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 4
I think if you ask many vegetarians what is one of the most difficult foods to give up in the move towards being vegan... it would be cheese. Yes, there are those who find it difficult to give up chocolate, or a dense and luscious double cream, or the fragrant, tooth-biting, brain-freezing heavenliness of traditional ice-cream, or the ubiquitous smell and taste of bacon. However, I’m sure at the top of the list, or certainly very near the top of the list, the most difficult food to give up for many is cheese; in all its beguiling creamy, grated, melting, crunchy cheesy yummy goodness. And so it is for Richard and myself.
Firstly, where do we sit on the vegetarian and vegan scale? Well, we are certainly not vegan as there are many things that we do eat currently that are just not vegan. At the moment we eat small amounts of fish (mainly fish fingers), so pescatarian; and we eat eggs and we also eat cheese... Oh, we like our cheese!
We don’t have any animal milks in our household any more; we have opted for a soya milk alternative instead and use this for all our beverages and cooking requirements. If we run out, we make our own oat milk - an easy recipe that we recently shared with Brady Sissy on our Facebook group Planet Vegetaria. We have not given up cream, though I can’t really remember the last time we had cream as we generally substitute this for yoghurt, which in every way is a cop-out as it is still a produce from a cow (in our case) though the next step for us here is to move to non-dairy yoghurt.
What is our favourite cheese? Well, I suppose it would have to be hard cheeses like Cheddar, and Parmesan. We are also particularly enjoying a Red Leicester at the moment from Lidl, and could not do without cottage cheese; either eaten as it is with crackers and salad or made into a delicious smoked mackerel pate.
This summer has been about lunches of homemade bread toasted, then our own allotment-grown grilled tomatoes sliced and laid on top, warmed under a grill, then slices of cheddar added and all then grilled to a melting glory. With a little bit of sea salt and cracked black pepper I’m not sure we had anything more divine over the summer months; in fact I think our second favourite lunch has been exactly the same but just as a sandwich, and with no addition of heat other than the 30° outside.
Anyway, back to cheese...
Even if one is not vegetarian or moving towards being a vegan, I think we all know that it is best to cut down on our saturated fat intake, and that obviously includes all of the hard cheeses, and many of the creamy, French-style ones that we buy in shops. Obviously, there are low fat and fat-free alternatives, though I think it’s better to have a little bit of something fabulous than a larger bit of something average. When it comes to being vegetarian and vegan, there are now many cheese alternatives; ones that can be made in a domestic kitchen at home as well as a decent number of branded versions in the shops. However, I think I’m yet to find a vegan alternative to cheese that will make us give up a good Cheddar or Red Leicester, or in fact a decent Parmesan. Who does not like a lovely grating of salty, crystal dense parmesan on their Bolognese, chillies, soups, or in fact virtually anything veggie and savoury?
Well, if this is your thing then maybe it’s time to try some alternatives…
One of the substitutes for parmesan that you can make at home is actually called Poor Man's Parmesan. Admittedly, it is not at all cheesy but it does add a texture to a dish akin to the traditional style parmesan that many Italians know and love. Poor Man’s Parmesan is basically breadcrumbs sautéed in olive oil with parsley and salt and pepper. It sounds simple, and it is, though it is absolutely divine. Sometimes, with our friend Mireille, we will have spaghetti with Poor Man's Parmesan with additional sliced or minced garlic added. Sublime! You could either buy the breadcrumbs or make your own by blitzing stale bread in a blender. This should be made to use immediately.
Taking the difficulty level up a little, though still very simple, is cheesy breadcrumbs. Take a few slices of good bread, preferably stale, tear into chunks then bake in a moderate oven for 10 to 15 minutes until all the moisture has evaporated from the bread. Once cooled, blitz the baked bread chunks with nutritional yeast flakes, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. This will keep in a sealed jam jar or glass jar for a few days.
If you like that hint of cheese and want to add another flavour level and some protein, then have a go at a vegan parmesan made with cashews, nutritional yeast flakes, garlic powder, onion powder and some salt and pepper (if you like pepper). You just add all ingredients to a blender and blitz until the texture of fine breadcrumbs. A scattering on top of your favourite pasta dish will surprise you, and added to a fine chili will lift it to a divine chili. This will keep in a sealed jam jar or glass jar for up to a week.
So the above are three simple ways you can cut down a little on cheese, and more importantly your saturated fat intake. Like many of the recipes we try and we share, feel free to add your own twist; herbs, seasonings, different types of nuts and even seeds can be added or substituted. Maybe roast the nuts for Vegan Parmesan for ten minutes in a hot oven for an added flavour dimension.
Below are the recipes for use with the above directions:
Poor Man’s Parmesan
2 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp bread crumbs
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 thick slices of stale bread (white, wholegrain or whatever you have)
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
6 tbsp raw cashews or cashews/almonds
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp salt
1tsp cracked black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
Within the last 10 hours, we have had a Pine Nut Hummus from Marietta and also a Beetroot Hummus from Jude posted to Planet Vegetaria - both obviously look delish!
Do you make your own, or do you buy from the shop? And if you buy from a shop, which is your favourite? And if you make your own, what is your favourite recipe?
Of course, it's not just about chickpeas; fresh butter beans, cooked tinned beans, lentils and more are used in different countries to make this ever popular favourite... of most.
Don't throw away your home-grown pumpkin seeds. Wash, removing all pumpkin flesh, dab dry with a clean tea towel, then let dry for 24 hours. Add a little oil, salt and spices, and roast in a hot oven for fifteen/twenty minutes. Delish!
Fed up with Green Tomato Chutney? This refreshing and mild curry may be just the right thing for you!
...long term partners.